Slideshow

In Pictures: Windows 8 app shootout - ModernMix v RetroUI Pro

Which tool works best to re-size Windows applications that run full-screen?

  • A big issue many users have with Windows apps is that they run full-screen. This can be confusing if you mostly use the desktop environment of Windows 8/8.1. You can easily forget if you have apps running -- and lose track of how many are running -- since there is no obvious indicator on the desktop of this happening. Two applications attempt to rectify this, letting you interact with your apps as if they are traditional Windows desktop applications: ModernMix and RetroUI Pro. Both will run a Windows app inside a re-sizeable window. (Unfortunately, the Windows 8.1 version of RetroUI Pro doesn’t offer this function.) ModernMix is free for 30 days; then $4.99, RetroUI Pro is free 7 days; then $4.95.

  • Both ModernMix and RetroUI Pro let you resize a window that’s running an app inside it by dragging its sides and corners. When resizing such a window under either application, the appearance of most of the Windows apps I tested would scale down and up well. This, of course, depended on how complex the layout of an app was: a simple-looking app, such as the default Sound Recorder tool of Windows 8/8.1, lends itself to a greater latitude for resizing than a “busier” looking app, such as OneNote, with UI elements originally designed to fill the entirety of a full screen.

  • User interface of the re-sizeable windows ModernMix applies the standard Windows title bar to each app, where the familiar three function buttons (Minimize, Maximize/Restore Down, and Close) are set on the upper-right. RetroUI Pro only provides a Close button on the title bar of the window within which a Windows app is running.

  • Scrolling within re-sizeable windows Both ModernMix and RetroUI Pro can show scrollbars on the re-sizeable window of an app whenever there’s more of an app’s layout to see. You can also use the arrow keys, and Page-Up and Page-Down keys on your computer’s keyboard, as well as the scroll wheel of a mouse, to see any other areas of an app that are out of frame. Some apps I tested would not display scrollbars, whether I used either program. For example, the Windows 8/8.1 default Weather app wouldn’t show a vertical scrollbar when it was obvious there was more information to be viewed. Any scrollbars that appear are apparently a UI element originally written into the app itself -- they are not elements overlaid by ModernMix nor RetroUI Pro.

  • Launching apps from the desktop ModernMix doesn’t provide a way to launch your Windows apps from the desktop. You still must first launch an app from the Start Screen before it can be used within a re-sizeable window. The Windows 7-style Start menu of RetroUI Pro contains shortcut icons to all the Windows apps installed on your computer.

  • Pinning apps to the desktop taskbar However, in ModernMix, after you’ve launched an app from the Start Screen, its icon appears on the desktop’s taskbar. You can then pin it like an ordinary Windows desktop application (by right-clicking its icon) so that you can conveniently launch it again from the taskbar whenever you want. Also, you can set the app’s icon onto the desktop itself by right-clicking on its re-sizeable window’s title bar. RetroUI Pro doesn’t display a Windows app that’s running in a re-sizeable window as an icon on the taskbar, so it lacks the function to let you pin it to the taskbar. Nor can you set its icon onto the desktop.

  • Viewing modes In ModernMix, hovering the cursor over the upper-right corner of an app running inside a re-sizeable window that’s been scaled down will summon two icons. Clicking the top one will make the app fill the entire screen. The bottom will summon the Windows 8/8.1 Charms Bar. In the default settings of ModernMix, pressing the F10 key will switch the viewing mode of an app between full-screen and within a re-sizeable window on the desktop. In RetroUI Pro, pressing the F12 key will cycle through viewing modes for an active Windows app: full-screen, within a re-sizeable window, and full-screen with the desktop’s taskbar appearing along the bottom.

  • Which one is best? The clear winner is ModernMix. RetroUI Pro misses out on two important things: the ability to pin an app to the desktop’s taskbar, and familiar function buttons on the title bar of the re-sizeable window. ModernMix is the only choice if you’re using Windows 8.1, but even if you’re not (and why wouldn’t you be since this upgrade from Windows 8 is free?), it does a nearly flawless job of letting you interact with your Windows apps as if they were regular desktop applications.

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